The battles of the Seven Days, the Peninsular campaign of 1862, have long held a fascination for myself since I first looked at the Airfix guide to American Civil Wargaming. Unfortunately our campaign to stage a refight suffered from an initial problem, in the first battle of the campaign before Christmas, the Federals burst through the Confederate’s defences at Fort Magruder in front of Richmond! Thankfully, and a little suspiciously, there is no photographic record of this debacle. The only explanation for last Thursday’s battle must have been Mc Clelland’s much criticised reticence to capitalise on a victory. With his prize there for the taking, ‘those people’ i.e. the Federals, stalled. Lee had taken command and caught a Union corps separated from the rest of the army at Mechanicsville. This campaign was not to be Lee’s finest hour either. The brave Confederates were to be thrown piecemeal against Union fieldworks and the ferocious fire and shell.
What better way to reflect disorganised and chaotic leadership than to hand command over to Messrs. Baldwin, Jones and Charles of Cardiff Wargames Club?! The veteran Ken “ol Blowhard” and youngster Jon “Fireball” Gallacher took charge of the isolated Yankees.
The Order of Battle for the CSA was; ( with acknowledgement of the excellent Wargames Illustrated article and R J Schroeder III’ s masterpiece ‘ Seven Days Before Richmond’.
Black Powder classification gives,
Divisional Artillery: four batteries off table off table at outset
A.P. Hill- leadership nine (able commander). All CSA commanders were rated as “able”.
First Brigade (Fields) Four standard regts. , Crack +5, 40th, 47th, 55th and 60th Virginia
Sixth Brigade ( Pender) Two standard regts, two large and one small regiment, Crack +5, 38th, 22nd, 34th and 16 North Carolina and the diminutive Arkansas Battalion.
Part of Archer’s Brigade. Standard regt., Crack +5, 14th Tenn.
D.H. Hill’s Ripley’s Brigade. Four standard regiments. 1st and 3rd North Carolina plus the 44th and 48th Georgia.
Union Forces of the Third Division of Porter’s Fifth Corps
Divisional Commander Mc Call, leadership nine. All Union commanders are given the same high rating. In the actual battle, all but Reynolds acted with initiative and bravery. The tardy Reynolds has been given a rating of just seven.
Meade’s Brigade, two large units, 3rd and 4th Pennsylvania, one standard regt. 7 Pennsylvania. Two rifled batteries.
Seymore’s Brigade, two large units, 9th and 10th Pennsylvania, one standard regt. 12th Penn., one rifled battery.
Reynold’s Brigade, One large regiment, the 8th Penn., two standard regiments, 1st and Second Pennsylvanian Reserves.
The map shows the strong Federal defences ( treated as fieldworks ). In addition the two ponds in the centre of the battlefield, near Ellerson Mill are impassable. On the Confederate side of the river, a waist deep swamp halves movement and only allows one move per turn.
The Wargames Illustrated scenario suggest that the Union be given a free cannonade before the game begins , the Confederates cannot reply to this. But, the steely eyed Union commander used the ineffective barrage to mask an unexpected redeployment. Ken brought one of Seymore’s regiments forward and placed it on the reverse of the Union held ridge. JamesC was already salivating………..
The Confederate plan was to concentrate our attack on the Union left. Ken ‘s reverse slope position shielded him from fire but also prevented him from firing down on the battle hungry Rebs! The brush and river did not deter the firey sons of the South. James with Pender’s brigade stormed up the hillside. On turn two, his troops were already crossing bayonets! Meanwhile, Ripley’s brigade was finding it hard work negotiating the millponds, and disasterously Ian with Field’s brigade failed to move at all….
Not content with over-running one Union regiment, James fed even more troops into the assault. Within another two turns the whole Union left was broken and desperately trying to hold onto the fence line at the rear of the table. True to character, Reynolds on the Union right was moving only slowly. McCall tried ordering the lazy brigade forward but that meant the defenders on the left were unable to be rallied or the Union centre redeployed.
And then one of those moments happened that makes Black Powder so addictive. Ian, commanding the Condederates centre, had already lost one unit in a brave but fool-hardy assault on the Federal breastwork behind the millponds. His second line 55th Virginians misread their orders and fell back. But his third line was made of sterner stuff. The 60th Virginia crested the embankments and shell scrapes and poured shot into the defenders at point blank range. My North Carolinans had now flanked the position and the enfilading fire was all consuming. It was all over, two out of three Union brigades broken.